Kokum is a Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) relative originating in humid tropical India, its natural range limited to the Western Ghats and the West coast of the sub-continent, extending from near Matheran, in the hills to the east of Mumbai, south through the states of Goa and Karnataka to Kerala.
It is a slow-growing tree, to heights of up to 20 m (66 ft), though is more typically 10 to 15 m (33 to 50 ft) tall with a slim, low-branching trunk supporting a densely leafy pyramidal crown. The bark is dark grey or dark brown, scaly, rough and sometimes mottled by lichens, mosses and algae, which thrive in the humid conditions in which the tree grows.
Leaves lance-shaped or elongated-oval, 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) long, crimson red when they emerge, age to dark glossy green and have a leather texture. They are arranged in pairs along the stems at the ends of the branches and remain on the tree in all seasons.
Flowers small with fleshy, waxy pink-petals and either female or male on separate trees. They come into bloom in the dry winter season, borne singularly or in clusters of up to four directly on the stems, and are followed on female trees by small round fruit, 3 to 4 cm (1.2 to 1.6 in) in diameter.
The fruit are green when young, become dark purple-red when ripe and have thick rind enclosing soft, juicy purple pulp embedded with six to eight kidney-shaped seed. It is a heavy bearer, each female tree producing hundreds of fruit that ripen around the start of the rainy season.
The seed yield 25 to 35% of an edible, white or pale yellow buttery fat know as 'Kokum Butter'. It is produced by grinding, steaming and then pressing the seed to release the fat, which is then filtered and churned into a solid buttery mass. The leftover seed cake is high in protein and is used mostly as an ingredient in livestock feed.
Kokum butter has a melting point of around 40 °C (104 °F), which means it remains solid at room temperature. This melting property, and its buttery consistency, makes it suitable for confectionery, including use as a Cocoa Butter Equivalent (CBE) to extend or replace Cocoa butter in the manufacture of chocolates. It is also widely used in its native range as a substitute for Gee, the clarified dairy butter common in Indian cookery, and it is also found as an ingredient in cosmetics, especially skin moisturising, lip balm and lipstick products.
The fruit rind is juicy with a sour flavour and is made into a syrup (cordial), beverage base, or is dried for use as a souring agent.
The syrup, known as 'Kokum syrup' is made by mixing the rind with cane sugar and packing the mixture into drums that are then sealed and left to stand. After standing for a week, the mixture is pressed and strained to produce the syrupy liquid, which is then usually bottled. It is an intensely deep purple-red syrup with a pleasing fruity taste and is served diluted with plain or soda water to make a refreshing drink.
Kokum rind is also indispensable in making 'Sol Kadi', one of southern India's most popular beverages. A vivid pink drink, it is made by soaking the rind in hot water, to extract the colour and flavour, then mixing the resulting liquid with fresh coconut milk, salt, garlic and green chillies.
Some of the rind is also usually reserved for drying (after brining) to make a souring agent known as 'Malabar tamarind', which is commonly used in southern Indian cooking, especially fish curries.
Wild trees are being threatened by the loss of natural habitat, which has caused the species to be listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
The properties of the seed fat lend to its use as a base for the addition of medicinal ingredients, to create ointments such as liniment ointments, used for treating sore muscles and strains. It is also used, without added medicines for treating chapped or cracked lips, fingers and feet.
The rind is rich in hydroxycitric acid, a biologically active plant metabolite sometimes used as an anti-obesity drug, reportedly inhibiting the conversion of carbohydrates to fats. Hydroxycitric acid is also found in high concentrations in the rind of Garcinia cambogia (Garcinia gummi-gutta).
Kokum grows naturally in humid subtropical and tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 19 to 25 °C annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 2000 to 5000 mm and a dry season of 7 months or less.
New plants can be started from seed or cuttings, with cuttings from known female and male trees consider best practice, so as to establish a good male to female ratio for successful pollination and fruit production. The seed are very slow to germinate and seedling trees only start to flower and bear fruit when about seven to eight years old. Yields vary considerably but average around 12 kgs (26 lbs) of fruit per tree per year.
Performs best on free- to slow-draining clay and loam soils of a moderately acid to neutral nature, generally with a pH of 5.0 to 7.5, and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has good tolerance to permanently wet or waterlogged soils.
There does not appear to be any records of escape and naturalisation anywhere in the world and the likelihood of it becoming a problem weed is low, due to the relatively large size of the fruit and seed, which makes them not easily dispersed.
Attokaran, M. 2011, Natural food flavors and colorants, Institute of Food Technologists, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Oxfordshire
Dastur, J. F. 1964, Useful plants of India and Pakistan : a popular handbook of trees and plants of industrial, economic, and commercial utility, 2nd ed., D. B. Taraporevala Sons, Bombay
Farooqi, A. A. & Sreeramu, B. S. 2004, Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic crops, Hyderabad University Press, Hyderabad
Gunstone, F. D. 2011, Vegetable oils in food technology : composition, properties and uses, 2nd ed, Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, New Jersey
Jamieson, G. S. 1943, Vegetable fats and oils : their chemistry, production, and utilization for edible, medicinal and technical purposes, 2d ed, Reinhold, New York
Janick, J., & Paull, R. E. 2008, The encyclopedia of fruit & nuts, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Martin, F. M., et al. 1987, Perennial edible fruits of the tropics : an inventory, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C.
Parrotta, J. A. 2001, Healing plants of peninsular India, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Seidemann, J. 2005, World spice plants: economic usage botany taxonomy, Springer-Verlag, Berlin
This website is provided for general information only. Iplantz makes no statements, representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this website and does not accept any liability to you or any other person for the information which is provided or referred to on this website.
In particular, Iplantz does not represent or warrant that any dataset or the data it contains is accurate, authentic or complete, or suitable for your needs. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of datasets and their contents.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Iplantz accepts no liability whatsoever to any person arising from or connected with the use of or reliance on any information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference, including any dataset or data it contains. No responsibility is taken for any information or services that may appear on any linked websites.